Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton? Keep an Eye on Obama’s Approval Rating

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tags: Hillary Clinton, election 2016, Obama, Trump



Despite all of the doom and gloom in America, President Obama’s approval rating is pretty good. It’s been hovering around 50 percent all year, and it was in the mid-to-upper 40s last year.

The right-track/wrong-track numbers, on the other hand, are terrible. A recent Gallup poll showed that just 17 percent were satisfied with the country — about as low as it has ever been.

Historically, the president’s approval rating is the more important piece of data. It’s a very good predictor of the result of presidential elections. Only two candidates — Richard Nixon in 1960, and Gerald Ford in 1976 — have lost the popular vote when the incumbent president had a positive approval rating heading into the campaign season. Those were the two of the three closest races of the 20th century. The third, 1968, featured a president with an approval rating just a bit underwater.

At best, knowing the right-track/wrong-track number has added no predictive value beyond what the president’s approval rating and the state of the economy provide. At worst, it can mislead — as it did in 2000, 2004 and 2012. Indeed, a simple model would give you the counterintuitive finding that a strong “right track” number is actually bad — that’s right, bad — for the president’s party after controlling for any combination of the president’s approval, the economy or incumbency.




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